“I ask no favor for my sex. I only ask of my brethren that they take their heels off our necks.” ~ RBG
United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last Friday evening. It is hard to divorce the fact of her death from the time of her death. We may have witnessed the passing of the ‘last of the just’.
She died almost to the moment that the Jewish New Year began. The ten days that started Friday and run through the Day of Atonement, are called the Days of Awe. Jewish mystical and metaphysical traditions teach that the most just and righteous souls are called to their rest as they near the end of their physical existence on the eve of these days as a mark of tribute.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived justice and righteousness. She never let courage be compromised by timidity, nor justice cheapened for expediency, nor honor mortgaged to avarice. Her work for equal treatment under law for women expanded individual liberties as much as Thurgood Marshall’s heroic work on black civil rights. Sadly the opportunism of our time has not allowed many others like her to rise.
There is yet another tradition that applies to Justice Ginsburg. The mystics believed that in every generation the world continues to exist on the merit of thirty-six just souls. That belief teaches that it is enough for even one of these to stay alive for the world to continue. That the worth of one just soul can redeem the decay of many. France’s Nobel-nominated author André Schwartz-Bart called his greatest work ‘The Last of the Just’ about just such a person. In it, he quotes the following mystical teaching. “And it is known that some just souls remain forever so inconsolable at human suffering, that God Himself cannot warm them.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was inconsolable to human suffering. Yet she channeled that inconsolability into a righteous anger determined to obtain justice for those who could not do so for themselves. She fought for all the hard causes because she knew they were the only ones worth fighting for. And in so doing she made all our lives better by “gentling the condition.” That, in the end, is the central determinant of the just and the righteous. They have compassion. Simple human decency. And they have courage. That’s all it really takes. When will others learn how easy it is to be righteous? Let us hope Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not the last of the just.